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Three Steps to Gaining Time Traction When You Feel Like You’re Spinning

How to clear your path when it's clogged with too many things to do.

Steve sighed as he slumped in his chair, “I feel like I’ve made some progress because at least I listed everything I need to do, but I’m still overwhelmed because everything needed to be done—yesterday. What's wrong with me?”

When the tasks pile up, figuring out what to do first can be a challenge.

Here are some reliable ways to slow the spin and move toward time and task mastery.

First, because the mind loves identifiable patterns and order, start by capturing all the tasks into a format you can work with: paper, planning software, digitally, outlines, columns, and even post-its (yes, that works for some).

Second, sort into topical categories by project, by type of task or where you’ll do it. For example: sales, accounting, and client work. Or maybe calls and emails to be done at your desk, to reading journals on the train, and a plan to visit the supply room on the way back from the meeting.

It helps to plot the task categories and estimated time needed on a calendar to give you a graphic of what’s a realistic use of your available time.

Finally, prioritize by what gives you the most value, the best return on your time. Surprisingly, it’s often the smallest of tasks that moves a big project forward.

Because he was short on time, Steve:

  1. Chose to do the quickest emails and phone calls that would give him the information he needed to progress to the next step or to finish his part and pass the rest of the responsibilities to someone else. That’s the one that feels the best: when you’re no longer the cork in the project completion funnel.

  2. Asked for short term help for a few items, something he didn’t do often and so felt OK about admitting he was having trouble keeping up.

  3. Realized he needed a few uninterrupted hours for a client project and gathered needed materials with a plan work in an unused meeting room the next day.

  4. Reminded himself that people can be forgiving and accommodating if they know they’re not being ignored, he alerted a few associates that he would be able to meet their deadlines and not to worry if he didn’t answer their increasingly worried calls for reassurance.

By acknowledging he was overwhelmed and using some clear criteria to order his tasks, and also by asking for help, he felt less stressed and was better able to regain time traction.

How have you mastered your time and tasks?

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